The Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower peaks in the early-morning hours. This is the finest meteor shower of the year for northern stargazers, with 40-60 meteors per hour visible at the peak in the hours before dawn on August 13. Once called the Tears of St. Lawrence, this meteor shower occurs as the Earth moves through a stream of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

This first image, captured about 2:00 a.m. on the morning of August 12, features the Milky Way and Jupiter setting just to the south of Santiago Peak, with three visible meteors, captured on a Canon 5D MkII with a 14mm lens, ISO 3200, 20 seconds @ f/2.8.

This year, the Moon is at third-quarter, not ideal for seeing the faintest meteors, but get started watching before midnight, away from city lights, and you will be rewarded with a bright meteor every few minutes or so.

Three metors above Santiago Peak, looking southwest about 2:30 a.m. Camera Canon 5D MkII, ISO 3200, 20 seconds @ f/2.8, 14mm lens.

The Perseids are also a long-lasting show, running from July 17 through August 25. So if you miss the peak, you still have a good chance to see some meteors.

Moon beginning to rise in the east, causing the Milky Way to face slightly and illuminate Santiago Peak and the Santiago Mountains with three meteors visible.
The light on the horizon, as well as on the mountains is not from sunrise, nor from sunset, but from moonrise, even though the moon is in its third quarter. Imagine the brightness if it had been a full moon. These images were from a Canon 6D, 14mm lens, ISO 3200, 20 seconds @ f/2.8.

So far this month, August 2020, we’ve been treated to Comet Neowise, Perseid meteor shower, and a bright planetary show of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. In these times, there are still lots of reasons to be thankful for the world, and universe, around us.

August in the Desert

At summer’s midpoint, it seems appropriate to post a couple of images representative of the environment of the Big Bend region of Texas at this time of year.

First, an iconic critter with a badly maligned nickname of “horny toad.” Another name for his animal, taken from the 1887 yearbook of Texas Christian University and later adopted as the athletic mascot, “Hornfrogs” has stuck as another piece of misinformation. This wonderful little critter is neither a toad nor a frog, but is in fact a lizard, known officially as the Texas Horned Lizard, or (Phrynosoma cornutum).

The Texas Horned Lizard is listed as a threatened species in Texas, and its numbers were declining so fast in Oklahoma that the legislature tried unsuccessfully to have it listed as an endangered species. When threatened, it freezes perfectly still and does an amazing job of blending into its surroundings. Like all lizards, it’s a welcome addition to our yard, due to its ability to gobble up insects at an amazing rate. The biggest problem is that it tends to freeze motionless and blend into its surroundings, and is therefore difficult to see and avoid when walking around its territory.

Another summer icon of the desert is the rising full moon over Tabletop Mountain east of Marathon.

In addition to the full moon, late July and early August is a fantastic period of summer for stargazing. We were visited by the comet Neowise for several weeks, and one of the best meteor showers of the year is beginning now and increasing to its peak in the early morning hours of August 12-13. Also, Jupiter and Saturn are putting on a great show in the southeast, and the Milky Way is reaching its peak show for the summer during August and September. So, get outside after dark and KEEP LOOKING UP!

Comet Neowise Has Returned

After making its debut in the morning sky, as noted in my previous post, Comet Neowise disappeared for a couple of days, only to reappear in the evening sky, now in the northwest, if you’re in the northern hemisphere. Here are a few images taken Saturday night around 10:30, looking northwest from Marathon, TX, over the Glass Mountains.

Neowise will be with us through the end of the month, moving a little farther west each evening. Go outside and look just above the horizon. It’s the best show since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1995.

Comet Neowise

Comet Neowise is paying us a visit. If you’re up before sunrise (about 6-6:30 a.m.) and look to the northeast, just above the horizon, you just might be able to see a real rare treat…a comet. Information about comet Neowise can be found at this link: https://earthsky.org/space/how-to-see-comet-c2020-f3-neowise. Here are a few pics I took this morning using a 600mm telephoto lens. It will take a pretty strong pair of binoculars to see it, so happy comet watching.

Family Ties Finale

Our red tail hawk youngsters have been growing, and growing, and growing during the past two weeks, and testing their flight feathers by going airborne above the nest whenever a good gust of wind blows across the plains. It’s been seven weeks since the first of two eggs were hatched, and both parents have done a spectacular job of tending to the non-stop feeding and nest cleaning. We’ve paid daily visits to the nest to watch these youngsters develop, and this is the final installment in our coverage as they join the ranks of young adults.

First observed late evening flight while Mom hunts dinner.
Next morning, getting a little braver as sibling looks on.
Higher still!
First sibling has made it airborne enough to reach a higher perch, so now it’s time for #2 to get serious about this flying thing.
Here’s how it’s done! We gave this guy the name, “Valiente”, or Brave.
Later that afternoon, Sibling #1 takes to the sky and joins Mom on the nearby telephone pole. Already the youngster appears to be bigger than Mom.
And then there was ONE.
My name for this guy, “El Guason”, the Trickster or Joker.
Stubbornly, our second adolescent would not fly for us that afternoon, and when we returned this morning, he had flown. No worries, we’re just glad to see two healthy young red tail hawks make it safely from the nest.
Mom had been watching me from a nearby pole, and when it was time to brag about a job well done, she made a full circle of where I was standing as a farewell salute. Congratulations, Mom!

Family Ties Update #2

It’s been over two weeks since our last update to a previous post about a family of red tail hawks and the care and feeding of two fluffy white chicks in the nest. Well, in that short time period, those chicks have been growing, and today they appear nearing that time when they are fully fledged and ready to leave the nest. We observed them both testing their flight feathers and strengthening those wings for a day in the not too distant future when the parents’ job will be complete.

One sibling to another, “so, are you quite done?”
Not far away, Mom multi-tasks, as all moms do, keeping watch on the youngsters and hunting for lunch.